Turkey vulture shot with arrow recovers, takes flight

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The release of a turkey vulture found on Mother's Day with an arrow through its body is a lesson in strength, according to the surgeon who helped return the flapping patient to the wild Monday.

Some birds may seem frail, but looks can be deceiving.

"In general, birds have an amazing ability to recover from wounds," said Dan Famini, the veterinarian who spent three hours operating on the vulture. "The bottom line is, it is always worth giving an animal a chance to recover and heal."

Cassandra Lista found the wounded bird -- an adult with a 6-foot wingspan -- in her garage in southwest Santa Rosa on May 11. She had just put down a cup of soup and was admiring the peaceful view out a window when her cats let her know something was up.

"My two cats, Yoshi and Ziggy, made a dash for the garage and then ran back. So I walked out to see what was going on," she said.

She found the vulture in obvious distress.

"It was way up on top of a shelf and holding its wing in an odd way. When I saw the arrow I knew it needed help," Lista said.

Because she's had previous run-ins with rabbits, foxes, gopher snakes and a skunk, Lista knew to call Wildlife Rescue near Petaluma.

Doris Duncan, the organization's executive director, cautioned Lista over the phone to turn off lights and close the door to keep the bird in a safe place. Later, Duncan wrangled the vulture and drove it, tucked under her right arm, to the Humane Society & SPCA of Sonoma County on Highway 12, where Famini was waiting to remove the arrow.

Famini often partners with Duncan following rescues. Treating unusual animals is normal for Famini, who also works with PAWS, the Performing Animal Welfare Society, a sanctuary in Galt for elephants, lions, tigers and other exotic species.

Famini has seen other patients shot with arrows. Some made it. Some didn't. It appeared the vulture's arrow was not a toy or a hunting arrow and could have been used for target practice, Famini speculated.

"Birds don't have abdomens, but the arrow went into that equivalent area and out the back. It was amazingly lucky that it missed vital organs," Famini said.

During surgery, the arrow tip was clipped off and the shaft slowly removed.

Post-surgery, the vulture recuperated at the Wildlife Rescue center under the watchful eye of raptor team leader Dona Asti. During the four-week recuperation, Lista called to check on the vulture, offering a release site. She also made a donation for its care and wonders who would intentionally wound a bird.

Turkey vultures, also known as buzzards, are a protected species, so injuring them is a crime.

"Turkey vultures are ugly, but they are so valuable. They are nature's garbage collectors," she said, adding that "children should be taught never to hurt any animal."

In the hours following Monday morning's release, Lista reflected on her part in saving one rather unattractive bird. As it rose overhead, it looked beautiful to her.

"It's such a thrill to me that we could save that bird. Really, all the credit goes to Wildlife Rescue and Dr. Famini. The bird just took off like it knew where it needed to go," Lista said.

You can reach Staff Writer Rayne Wolfe at 521-5240 or rayne.wolfe@pressdemocrat.com.

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